The competitive playing of videogames, known as esports, is a growing industry attracting large audiences and prize pools. With gamers developing the same fine motor skills and precision needed to excel as an athlete, questions are being raised as to whether esports could become an Olympic medal event.
Southern Cross University academic and researcher within the Faculty of Health, Dr Dylan Poulus, says it’s likely. Dr Poulus has received the first ever grant from the Australian Institute of Sport for research into esports with the aim to develop a model for producing elite gamers.
Speaking to student host Blake for the SCU Buzz podcast, Dr Poulus said videogames are already being trialled at the Olympics.
“The International Olympic Committee announced its esports series in 2023 but the games that they’ve included are games that I would classify as virtual sports such as Gran Turismo, which is a driving simulator game, Tic Tac Bow, which is virtual archery, and chess,” Dr Poulus said.
It could be a short leap from virtual sporting events to the inclusion of more traditional esports competitions such as League of Legends or Defence of the Ancients 2 (DOTA 2) in the Olympic line-up, according to Dr Poulus.
“The Australian Institute of Sport has funded me to develop a model of esports performance with the goal of adapting their high-performance system to build the first gold medal-ready esports athlete,” he said.
“Esports abilities are determined by fine motor coordination, timing and communication with your teammates. If you miss with your mouse by a pixel, you miss the chance to win the objective. If you don’t click your keys at the exact right moment, you’ve missed the ability to hit your enemy.”
Esports competitions currently draw hundreds of thousands of viewers with prize pools reaching upwards of $50 million AUD. Dr Poulus predicts by 2050 the biggest sporting stars in the world by money, audience and fandom could be esports players.
“Ten years ago, to be the best gamer, you just played more than everyone else. But what we’re seeing now is that to be the best gamer, you have to be fit, you have to be healthy, you have to have a good social and personal life. You have to be a balanced, healthy individual just like if you’re a traditional sports athlete.”